Recent Dharma Talks

Talks by sangha and visiting teachers. Use the page controls to see older talks or see the topical pages listed above.

  • Saturday, March 07, 2015 9:18 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    [appreciating precision, the precision that allows 36 people to live in one room for a weekend with some degree of harmony: Ewan lighting the charcoal, Dave hitting the bells just right even when I left early from the mat (I felt so cared for), Bob & Chris and the others getting the food just right just in time, the servers arranging the trays precisely right for us to pass everything down in the right order, the tricky correography of doing dishes in our tiny kitchen, the organizational precision by which John and Kate figured out who would be here when, how Connie figured out exactly which tasks and who should do them, how Jeff and Lee are figuring out who to bring to dokusan when. ]

    [appreciating openness, people coming to dokusan and sharing their stories, I’d forgotten how much that helps me to learn about the dharma, and appreciating those who chose not to come to dokusan, that when we say you can pass is actually true and by taking that option you make sure that it is really true – you can be in various situations where it’s supposed to be okay to pass but actually…it’s not. So thank you for coming or not coming to dokusan both]

    My theme today is “Bodhisattvas are everything.”

    Jeff McKenna who joined us this morning told me a story about bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are everywhere he said and then he told me on of the reasons why he knows this to be true. Jeff runs a suicide prevention task force, an extension of his years of social service and counseling work, and they have been running suicide prevention workshops lately that are open to everyone. He was talking after the training to one woman, maybe mid-thirities, who attended with her mom. He was firstly amazed by the loving connection between this woman and her mom. An adult child and parent attending this training together. The woman shared that she doesn’t know about this kind of stuff very much, “I just work in retail” she said and that’s what she’d always done. Her mom turned to her with loving eyes and “well I think your pretty special” and they held a moment of love and connection for a moment. This was remarkable enough. And then she spoke about her work. “I’ve learned over the year that my job isn’t to tell anybody anything” – this made Jeff wonder, she works in retail and her job isn’t to sell anyone anything? But she went on, “my job is to understand what they need – it doesn’t matter if it’s something we sell in the store or not, I really want to know who they are and what they need. Then if it is something we sell her they’ll probably buy it, or maybe they’ll buy it somewhere else. That’s okay, but I want to know what they need.”

    And then she said that recently a young woman had come into the store. And she found herself disliking this young woman. The way her hair was done, her tatoos, the way she was moving nervously around the store. And she realized, she said, that she had to do something about her own mind. She made a kind of flittery gesture up and down the sides of her head representing this thinking. “I knew I woud never be able to find out what she needs with all this going on.” And that she had to clear that out, waving her hands smoothly down again. In other words she knew that the afflictive judgmental thinking in her mind was going to prevent connection. And she needed to connect. So she had to work with her inner life first.

    Only she’d done that she felt ready to approach this young woman. “Hi, can I help you?”

    And it’s interesting I think to reflect on that overused phrase, “can I help you?” – that can mean a lot of things. In this case she’d done what she needed to do for that to actually mean “can I help you?”

    The young woman said something like “I was thinking of writing something, do you have anything for that?”

    And our retail bodhisattva realized they had wonderful hard-made diaries in the store. She said the leather was so soft you couldn’t believe if was leather. That just touching it made you feel something. So nice to touch. So she walked the young woman over to the diary display and handed her one. “Maybe you could write in this diary.”

    And the woman stood there, feeling the diary, feeling the kindness of our bodhisattva store clerk, and opened up. She talked for half and hour. A flood of word. How depressed she’s been, how isolated, no one to talk to. That she’d had the idea of write down her last thoughts and messages before she ended it all. And well, maybe now she could just write, write her thoughts in this diary, maybe that would be enough.

    Bodhisattvas are everywhere. And Bodhisattvas are willing to appear in whatever shape and size and culture that they need in order to serve.

    I don’t know about you but I’m a little resistant to the idea of working in retail. I have the story that this would be below me, and dubious ethically – just a way of facilitating the materialistic consumer culture. Helping the Man.

    I hope one day I can be as willing to be a bodhisattva in every circumstance as this woman is. The great way has no difficulty, just set aside picking and choosing the great Zen poem goes. Or maybe we could re-write that: the great way has no difficulty just choose love, just choose connection. And stop being so damned picky..

    Norman has been suggesting that the nature of this empty universe is love. Is compassion. Could this really be true. Could it be true giving some of the spectaular examples of evil behavior we see in the media. We all know about IRIS and their televised beheadings. And I pay attention also to a Somali group called Boko Haram because they’ve been performing attached on non-muslims in Kenya and our honorary daughter Mercy Ukumu is there in Kenya. She graduated from university by the way and is working for a non-profit that provides literacy education to rural populations, with an emphasis on economic and financial literacy and empowerful. She’s also going to night school to start towards her Master’s degree. An incredible, motivated, smart beautiful young woman. Boko Haram recently pulled into an isolated rock quarry. In Africa it’s pretty common for workers to live on the site where they work, so they attacked in the middle of the night. Lined up everyone whom they thought weren’t muslim and killed them. Horrible. That greed, hate, and delusion in the mind can manifest in such a way that such a thing makes sense. Because of course people only do what makes sense to them.

    Could this be a world of love and compassion co-exist with IRIS and Boko Haram? We’ve also seen plenty of sociology and crime statistics data coming out that says actually the world is the most safe and most prosperous in history. One statistic is that the most common cause of violent death by far is homicide, and also that homicide is most often committed by someone you know well, and homicide is down, by a lot, pretty much everywhere in the world. And standard of living is higher in many many places.

    But, the mind goes “but” so quickly, doesn’t it? We also have the largest world wide extinction event in the hisotry of the planet going on, we also have global warming, we also have IRIS and Boko Haram. What do we make of this world?

    One time the Zen monk Dizang in Tang China was out working the fields below the monastery. A visiting monk came walking up the road in his monk’s travelling clothes. Dizang popped the Zen question that Norman mentioned yesterday: “Where do you come from?” Xiushan replies “From the south.” Dizang digs further with his shovel and his words, “How is Buddhism in the south these days?” Xuisan says, “There’s extensive discussion.” Dizang is not impressed, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and growing rice to eat?” Xiushan: “What can you do about the world?” Dizang answers “What do you call the world?”

    What do you call the world? We take in various bits of information, we tell various stories and have conversations with ourself and others, we collaborate to call the world into existence. We see images in the media. We participate in the continuation of the internet which makes YouTube possible, which allows IRIS to have a free world wide TV channel of their own to show us what makes sense to them. And we bow to each other here. We sit, we smile, we breathe, we scowl, we love, we feel anger arising, we practice patience, we feel connection, we touch the soft leather cover of the hand-made diary, we notice the flittery thoughts in the mind, we are calling the world. The world is calling us.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    When we make the world are we making ISIS or retail bodhisattvas. Do we have any way of knowing which way the balance tips? Can we hold in our mind the billions of people simply living their lives, practicing kindness. There are bodhisattvas everwhere, we may need to remind ourselves that we aren’t the special ones who are learning about this special teaching and that makes us the bodhisattvas. Maybe we’re just the ones who needed the remedial education and many many other beings are already active and wise bodhisattvas without all of this.

    Bodhisattvas are willing to go anywhere to serve, including into hell. The 6 worlds that come up in our chants are the 6 levels of existence that you can get born into. We heard a little about the heavenly realms this morning. Pleasant but a little stupifying, in Buddhism the gods are to be pittied a little. They live long lives full of pleasure but they’re a little dumb and they have the frustration of being interested in practice but not able to understand it. Some of may need to be reborn there to keep directing their attention to practice so that once they finally die and leave the heavenly realms they’ll be reborn as humans who can practice.

    And there are the hell realms. Sometimes these get mentioned with a bit of an ironic smile, kind a cute part of Buddhist mythology, these wild hell realms. But maybe there’s more to it than that which might be useful to us as bodhisattvas in training.

    I’ve been studying a book by Jeffrey Hopkins who’s a scholar-practitioner who works closely with HH Dalai Lama and from him I learned about the nice practice of visualizing someone you know and dedicating your practice to them which we did yesterday. I didn’t specify which kind of person to pick and I bet most of us picked someone we’re close to and care about. Did you? That’s just the beginning of that practice, you continue to visualize mulitple different people and as you get comfortable with it you visualize people who aren’t so close to or even have trouble with. Similar to the progression one does in loving kindness. Our first stab probably pretty pleasant, and even widening the field in that practice still mostly pleasant.

    Professor Hopkins also relates that visualizing people stuck in the hell realms is also a way to cultivate compassion. Compassion requires three elements. First to be willing to notice that someone is suffering, you don’t even notice that you can’t do much; second to actually feel something of their suffering so that there is an empathetic, felt connection; third to be willing to do something about it. To be willing to help. And sometimes 4th to actually do something.

    The contemplation of hells is designed to help us with the willingness to feel pain deeply. This is not so fun. And traditionally if you took the mythology of Buddhism literally these hells were probably really powerful images: there are the first 2 of the 8 hot hells. There are 8 hot hells and 8 cold hells in this system.

    • Sañjīva, the “reviving” Naraka, has ground made of hot iron heated by an immense fire. Beings in this Naraka appear fully grown, already in a state of fear and misery. As soon as the being begins to fear being harmed by others, their fellows appear and attack each other with iron claws and hell guards appear and attack the being with fiery weapons. As soon as the being experiences an unconsciousness like death, they are suddenly restored to full health and the attacks begin again. Other tortures experienced in this Naraka include having molten metal dropped upon them, being sliced into pieces, and suffering from the heat of the iron ground.[3] Life in this Naraka is 1.62×1012 years long.[4] It is said to be 1000 yojanas beneath Jambudvīpa and 10,000 yojanas in each direction (a yojana being 7 miles, or 11 kilometres).[5]
    • Kālasūtra, the “black thread” Naraka, includes the torments of Sañjīva. In addition, black lines are drawn upon the body, which hell guards use as guides to cut the beings with fiery saws and sharp axes.[3][5] Life in this Naraka is 1.296×1013 years long.[4]

    This idea is to mentally switch places with someone stuck in one of these hells. tO really visualize and feel what that would be like. To use the strong concentration we develop in meditation and direct it to this. To fully commit to feeling the pain of being in hell.

    What I realized though is that these hells aren’t so real for us. But the horror of ISIS or Boki Haram is plenty real. So we can do thise practice by imaginging ourself as one of their victims. And we can even imagine ourself as one of the perpetrators. I won’t have us do this, but it’s worth considering really allowing yourself to turn toward these horrors. Deliberately, as a meditation. Ideally with some guidance and support. Our full humanity involves heaven, hell, bodhisattvas, delusion, greed, generosity, hate, kindness, patience, all of it. The idea with bodhisattva practice is not to become perfect and clean ourselves up perfectly. It’s to be radically and fully human and able to move through all of the worlds to help beings.

    Someone asking me, how do you feel oneness? How to you take the backward step. How do we touch emptiness? How can we find out for ourselves whether this compassion-empty-interconnectedness is really the nature of things? How do we touch the emptiness that isn’t a thing?

    I don’t know if I have a good answer. There’s a feeling to it, at least that’s my experience, sometimes I’m in contact with some version of that fluid and changing feeling in a conscious way, other times not. I’m sure it arrises in different ways for each person, and could it even be an it if we really listen to the emptienss teachings – no thing has essential nature. There’s only flow and connection and relationship. But all kinds of energy can emerge from connection and relationship right? Love can arrive. It can arrive over a candle lit dinner, or it can arrive over the diary display at the department store. But so can hate and anger, so can desire and greed, so can confusion and misunderstanding. What governs it, what gives us at least a chance of glimping what Abraham Lincoln called “The better angels of our nature.”?

    Maybe a little more on emptiness as a teaching is helpful. Wisdom is seen as the wisdom root of compassion.
    [Lewis Richmond, Emptiness: the most misunderstood word in Buddhism]

    I got to do a study retreat on the Heart Sutra in Mexico last summer. A real treat for me. And talking about his fluid, interpenetrating nature of things I learned my favorite Spanish word: “fluido” – fluid, basically the same but somehow if I say to myself fluido I hear it better, the feeling of the word is the feeling of emptiness to me. Fluido. I recommend that as a word to return to or breath with when you find that you’re believing the opposite – that your believing reality is not fluid, that it’s STUCK. What’s the feeling of stuck?

    Another Zen story about compassion. Perhaps some of you had the privilege of sitting with Michael a few weeks ago when he led a retreat all about this story and Dogen’s take on it

    Yunyan asked Daowu: “How does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion [Kannon] use so many hands and eyes?”
    Daowu said: “It’s just like a person in the middle of the night reaching back in search of a pillow.”
    Yunyan said: “I understand.”
    Daowu said: “How do you understand it?”
    Yunyan said: “All over the body are hands and eyes.”
    Daowu said: “What you said is all right, but it’s only eighty percent of it.”
    Yunyan said: “I’m like this, senior brother. How do you understand it?”
    Daowu said: “Throughout the body are hands and eyes.”

    These two are brothers, my favorite Zen worthies from the cannon, Yunyan is referring to the depiction of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitsevara or Kannon, when she’s shown having a thousand arms so that she can help people. Sometimes a different tool in each hand. And she has a lot of eyes because she has 8 or 9 faces, each face with a different expression to meet beings. How can we be that compassionate? How can we really use all of our hands and eyes, everything we’ve got, to help beings.

    Brother Daowu’s answer is so beautiful. It’s natural. It’s not something you try to do. It’s like reaching for your pillow in the middle of the night. Instinct. Comfort. Warmth.

    Practically speaking to be a bodhisattva we do have to try. There is effort involved. That the relative compassion side. But there’s also naturalness, there’s also fullness, there’s os just being-ness. The absolute compassion side starts to flavor the relative over time. One way this shows up is we learn there are times to do less. Times to just bear witness and be with. Times to see that we’re creating a the problem in the mind, that circumstances are just circumstances. Sometimes we can just be with what is without bother it or letting it bother us. This is equanimity practice and it requires a conversation between the relative and the absolute.

    When a distracted person who doesn’t look like you and is acting funny appears how will you respond?

    I’m teaching classes right now to King County employees in Seattle. It’s skillful for me to take the bus down if I can which means arriving some hours early and staying a few hours after my class the next morning. So I have a little time on my hands in downtown Seattle and I walk a lot. Looking around, doing an errand, I got a membership to the Y, I can go there. Anyway I run into a lot of panhandlers. Sometimes I give them a dollar, sometimes not, I always try to make eye contact, turn towards them at least a little, acknowledge their humanity whether I’m supporting the panhandling or not. This one guy came up though, he was asking for an odd amount, 87 cents or something, I said no. And he walked with me, he kept asking, I kept saying now, I could feel myself shrinking in, feeling threatened, a desire to lash out and yell at him and set him straight arose in me. Stuck in the relative I didn’t respond well. I ask Daowu know, “How does Kannon greet the aggressive panhandler?” What does he answer?

    And sometimes we do respond skillfully. En route to Seattle this last time on my beloved BoltBus and…

    I’ve been promoting the BoltBus as a great way to do Bellingham Seattle. Affordable, on time, comfortable, as fast as driving.
    Today cruising south en route to teach for King County. Relaxed, working a little, time to think, reading Alan Wallace on mindfulness (he has some interesting interpretations of the main Buddhist sutra that’s quoted) then this beep-beep-beep alarm started up, kept happening. Soon our driver is changing lane to the right. Eventually beep-beep-beep we are on the shoulder. Water system leak this bus isn’t going anywhere. Side of the road a little south of Everett.
    And I teach tonight – ut oh, trouble?
    Nope, no trouble. The driver gets on the phone with Greyhound which also has a southbound bus running. We wait about 45 minutes, the Greyhound shows up and whisks us away. The drivers even haul all of our gear (including my bike) from one bus to the next. Interesting moment walking along the edge of I-5 with the traffice roaring by.
    Given that I usually hit Seattle two hours before class starts I’m just fine. Didn’t particularly increase the blood pressure. Just cruising along. The broken bus in our wake not my concern. Greyhound even has wifi now.
    Nice job, Steve from Bolt getting us down the road. I asked him if a bus breakdown is a right of passage for drivers and he says “oh that was nothing, last time was in the middle of Montana. In the snow.”
    And then a little while later I hear this moaning, sobbing sound. I look back and see a man, skinny kind of odd expression, late 60’s or so. He looks at me but with that kind of look where you aren’t sure he sees you. Was it him? I could feel that pulling in you do in a public situation like a Greyhound bus when there’s a hint of mental illness going on. We often hunker down to ignore whatever’s going on. Engaging might make it worse we tell ourselves. Not our business. And sometimes that’s true. But we don’t check it out.
    A little further down the road more moaning, definitely seems to be from this fellow.
    Then we pull off the highway en route not to the Greyhound terminal but to where the BoltBus drops people off. Different exit than usual for the Greyhound. And how our friend is talking and I can pretty much make it out. “We’re not going to the terminal! OH NO! We’re not going! This is all wrong! All wrong!” I look more carefully and he has a cell phone to his ear, maybe talking to a friend picking him up? Maybe just holding a cell phone. And I realize he’s just not understanding what’s happening. That he looks like any of us, able to speak English, wearing clothing, sitting in his seat, but his mind couldn’t process what had happened and he was scared. Really scared, a big problem was happening for him. The bus was going to the wrong place and he was helpless.
    Finally I mustered the bodhicitta I needed and got up and stood right in front of him leaning over the seat in front of him. Looked him in the eyes and said as clearly as I could “The bus will go to the terminal. Just a stop first. The bus will go to the terminal. It’s okay the bus will go to the terminal.” He seemed reassured but didn’t say anything to me. So many ways we can misunderstand, be misunderstood. This is ignorance in it’s basic sense, misunderstanding reality. Here misunderstanding a detail in the relative world, but our bigger misunderstanding is believing in the reality of the relative world. Giving it a solidity it doesn’t have. A permanence. Hanging it out in front of ourselves like a lure – if only I could share this reality in the right way I’d be happy, but it doesn’t quite work.
    The poem I read at the end yesterday seems like it landed well. I mentioned the poet Mary Oliver when I presented it but actually the poem was by Naomi Shihab Nye. Here’s a story-poem from her that fits our topic:

    Gate A-4

    Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

    Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
    my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement:
    “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
    come to the gate immediately.”

    Well–one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

    An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
    like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,”
    said the flight service person. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
    told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

    I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly.
    “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
    se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
    used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
    entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
    next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
    picking you up? Let’s call him.”

    We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
    stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to
    her–Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
    for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
    in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
    thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
    and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.

    She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee,
    answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
    cookies–little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
    nuts–out of her bag–and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
    To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
    sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
    lovely woman from Laredo–we were all covered with the same powdered
    sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

    And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two
    little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they
    were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend–
    by now we were holding hands–had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
    some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
    tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

    And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
    is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
    gate–once the crying of confusion stopped–seemed apprehensive about
    any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
    women, too.

    This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

  • Saturday, March 07, 2015 5:14 PM | Anonymous
  • Friday, March 06, 2015 6:24 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    We’ve been enjoying studying the great 9th century sage Shantideva’s long poem on how to be a bodhisattva during this practice period. Shantideva’s verses talk about nurturing the deep wish for the happiness and joy of all beings. That we not just kind of hope that might happen sometime but that we root our lives in that wish – called bodhicitta – the thought of awakening. A famous passage is often chanted and we’ve been chanting it at the openings of our study meetings:

    Class Opening Verse (from chapter 3)
    May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
    A guide for those who journey on the road;
    For those who wish to go across the water,
    May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

    May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
    And a lamp for those who long for light;
    For those who need a resting place, a bed;
    For all who need a servant, may I be a slave.

    May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
    A word of power, and the supreme remedy.
    May I be the trees of miracles,
    And for every being, the abundant cow.

    Like the great earth and the other elements,
    Enduring as the sky itself endures,
    For the boundless multitude of living beings,
    May I be the ground and vessel of their life.

    Thus, for every single thing that lives,
    In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
    May I be their sustenance and nourishment
    Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering

    A beautiful sentiment no? May we really serve others. But how to do this skillfully? We had the most lively discussions when we were examining how to be a guide to beings when things get tough. The chapter on patience opens with a strong statement about how easy it is to screw this up:

    Good works gathered in a thousand ages,
    Such as deeds of generosity
    Or offerings to the Blissful Ones –
    A single flash of anger shatters them.

    This verse seems to make this an impossible task. Who doesn’t feel a flash of anger from time to time. And if it’s not anger exactly it’s something else. One self-awareness tool is to consider one’s tendencies in light of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Those three words are a little extreme but let’s think about what they mean.

    Greed stands for desire, for a persistent feeling of lack, a powerful urge to acquire more of something, it doesn’t have to be material stuff either. Desiring things to be other than how they are. Are you a desire person?

    Ignorance stands for confusion, bafflement, not getting it. Just tooling along doing your thing and suddenly someone’s upset with you, huh? You missed it. You feel into a blind spot. I usually put myself in this category although it comes in a close second to greed and desire in me.

    And hatred stands for anger. Fiery emotions. Grief can show up here. Despair. Regret. People in this category can be powerfully passionate and energetic and also overrun by emotion.

    There are positive aspects to all of these of course too. Each of the defilements motivates us to practice and brings us useful qualities which we can learn to use skillfully. Greed and desire people are focused on results and get stuff done. Ignorance and confusion people are stable and often quite kind and pleasant to be around. Hatred and anger people are also powerful, passionate and inspiring.

    And yet Shantideva says, one misstep and so much damage is done. The mind is powerful and the results of our words and deeds are huge. It’s a big responsibility being a person. And yet we can only do our best.

    Does this mean never be angry? Never be greedy? Never be confused? I’m not sure that’s possible. And I don’t think that’s what Shantideva means. He means to take the inner life seriously. To recognize it’s power.

    I was speaking to someone recently who had a great wave of anger pass over him. He lashed out at a few friends while in the throes of anger. He could feel that it was rooted in the pain of the past and only triggered but a few things of the present. He was asking me how to practice with it. I inquired into what happened and it turns out he sat down in zazen and sat with it. He took a break while driving home out of concern that he was so distraught he might crash. He took care of himself at home as best he could and a little later when it had lifted he apologized to the people he’d lashed out at. And then asking me how to practice with it. It was really nice to be able to point out that he already knows how to practice with it, that exactly what he did was a wise, stable and patient response to anger. When we’re in it’s grip, that how it is, but we can cultivate the ability to be mindful of being caught and we can respond wisely. And each wave of anger, or desire, or confusion that washes over us which we meet with patience and skill is a little more of the karma of the past used up. A little less is there to take over next time. Being with our strong emotions and not feeding them is a huge thing. Transformational. Powerful. And no it’s not fun when we’re caught but caught with awareness and wise response is the practice.

    And Shantideva says that we can really appreciate the people that set us off. There’s helping us learn. And when we meet pain and difficult with the vast vow of bodhicitta we realize that it’s not that we just don’t want anger and want happiness, that’s selling outselves too cheap. When there’s difficulty we can feel our way into the radical turning that’s ultimately possible with practice.

    My favorite pair of verses about this:

    Praise and compliments disturb me.
    They soften my revulsion with samsara.
    I being to covet others’ qualities, and
    Every excellence is thereby spoiled.

    Those who stay close by me, then,
    To ruin my good name and cut me down to size –
    Are they not the guardians who protect me
    From perdition in the realms of sorrow?

    In other words getting caught in praise and blame means we’ve put ourself in a pretty small box. Samara is Buddhist lingo for thinking that if we just got what we want and got rid of what we dislike everything will be peachy. We know better of course, but there’s a part of us that’s caught in a very simplistic and unworkable model. There’s a part of us that thinks, or maybe doesn’t think, that reacts to the world on that basis. When something we don’t like happens we get defensive and angry. Sangha life is a great place to study this. When something we’re excited about happens we get too excited, we keep repeating to ourselves how great this is while under the surface the fear that it’ll soon be gone, or we don’t deserve it and so on bubbles up.

    So we can let ourself be a little disturbed by compliments and appreciate of insults. When we have enough support and are in contact with our vow to awaken with all beings we aren’t so caught.

    One of the Lojong mind training slogans is: whichever of the two arises be patient. The two are bad things and good things. When bad things arise, be patient – how can I work with this, what do I learn, can I learn that the category of good and bad, this living in samsara, is ultimately not going to work out? And when good things arise be patient – be patient with getting too excited, be patient with the fear and instability than can co-arise with the good things, and again be motivated. Can I feel the peace and happiness that’s not so contingent on good things and bad things.

    This talk by Pema Chodron was recently re-published, let’s see what she has to say about that practice of patience and I’ll add a few comments.

    The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience
    by Pema Chödrön | March 1, 2005

    We can suppress anger and aggression or act it out, either way making things worse for ourselves and others. Or we can practice patience: wait, experience the anger and investigate its nature. Pema Chödrön takes us step by step through this powerful practice.
    The Buddhist teachings tell us that patience is the antidote to anger and aggression. When we feel aggression in all its many forms—resentment, bitterness, being very critical, complaining and so forth—we can apply the different practices we’ve been given and all the good advice we’ve heard and given to other people. But those often don’t seem to help us. That’s why this teaching about patience caught my interest a few years ago, because it’s so hard to know what to do when one feels anger and aggression.

    I thought, if patience is the antidote to aggression, maybe I’ll just try that. In the process I learned a lot about what patience is and about what it isn’t. I would like to share with you what I’ve learned, to encourage you to find out for yourself how patience works with aggression.

    To begin with, I learned about patience and the cessation of suffering. It’s said that patience is a way to de-escalate aggression. I’m thinking here of aggression as synonymous with pain. When we’re feeling aggressive—and in some sense this would apply to any strong feeling—there’s an enormous pregnant quality that pulls us in the direction of wanting to get some resolution. It hurts so much to feel the aggression that we want it to be resolved.

    So what do we usually do? We do exactly what is going to escalate the aggression and the suffering. We strike out; we hit back. Something hurts our feelings, and initially there is some softness there—if you’re fast, you can catch it—but usually you don’t even realize there is any softness. You find yourself in the middle of a hot, noisy, pulsating, wanting-to-just-get-even-with-someone state of mind: it has a very hard quality to it. With your words or your actions, in order to escape the pain of aggression, you create more aggression and pain.

    At that point, patience means getting smart: you stop and wait. You also have to shut up, because if you say anything it’s going to come out aggressive, even if you say, “I love you.”

    Once, when I was very angry at a colleague of mine, I called him on the telephone. I can’t even remember now what I was angry about, but at the time I couldn’t sleep because I was so furious. I tried meditating with my anger and working with it and doing practices with it, but nothing helped, so I just got up in the middle of the night and called him. When he answered the phone, all I said was, “Hi, Yeshe.” But he immediately asked, “Did I do something wrong?” I thought I would very sweetly cover over what I was really feeling and say something pleasant about all the bad things he had done, whatever they were. But just by the tone of my greeting to him, he knew. That’s what it’s like with aggression: you can’t speak because everyone will feel the vibes. No matter what is coming out of your mouth, it’s like you’re sitting on top of a keg of dynamite and it’s vibrating.

    Patience has a lot to do with getting smart at that point and just waiting: not speaking or doing anything. On the other hand, it also means being completely and totally honest with yourself about the fact that you’re furious. You’re not suppressing anything—patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself. If you wait and don’t feed your discursive thought, you can be honest about the fact that you’re angry. But at the same time you can continue to let go of the internal dialogue. In that dialogue you are blaming and criticizing, and then probably feeling guilty and beating yourself up for doing that. It’s torturous, because you feel bad about being so angry at the same time that you really are extremely angry, and you can’t drop it. It’s painful to experience such awful confusion. Still, you just wait and remain patient with your confusion and the pain that comes with it.

    Patience has a quality of enormous honesty in it, but it also has a quality of not escalating things, allowing a lot of space for the other person to speak, for the other person to express themselves, while you don’t react, even though inside you are reacting. You let the words go and just be there.

    This suggests the fearlessness that goes with patience. If you practice the kind of patience that leads to the de-escalation of aggression and the cessation of suffering, you will be cultivating enormous courage. You will really get to know anger and how it breeds violent words and actions. You will see the whole thing without acting it out. When you practice patience, you’re not repressing anger, you’re just sitting there with it—going cold turkey with the aggression. As a result, you really get to know the energy of anger and you also get to know where it leads, even without going there. You’ve expressed your anger so many times, you know where it will lead. The desire to say something mean, to gossip or slander, to complain—to just somehow get rid of that aggression—is like a tidal wave. But you realize that such actions don’t get rid of the aggression; they escalate it. So instead you’re patient, patient with yourself.

    Developing patience and fearlessness means learning to sit still with the edginess of the energy. It’s like sitting on a wild horse, or on a wild tiger that could eat you up. There’s a limerick to that effect: “There was a young lady of Niger, who smiled as she rode on a tiger. They came back from the ride with the lady inside and the smile on the face of the tiger.” Sitting with your discomfort feels like riding on that tiger, because it’s so frightening.

    When we examine this process we learn something very interesting: there is no resolution. The resolution that human beings seek comes from a tremendous misunderstanding. We think we can resolve everything! When we human beings feel powerful energy, we tend to be extremely uncomfortable until things are resolved in some kind of secure and comforting way, either on the side of yes or the side of no. Or the side of right or the side of wrong. Or the side of anything at all that we can hold on to.

    But the practice we’re doing gives us nothing to hold on to. Actually, the teachings themselves give us nothing to hold on to. In working with patience and fearlessness, we learn to be patient with the fact that we’re human beings, that everyone who is born and dies from the beginning of time until the end of time is naturally going to want some kind of resolution to this edgy, moody energy. And there isn’t any. The only resolution is temporary and just causes more suffering. We discover that as a matter of fact joy and happiness, peace, harmony and being at home with yourself and your world come from sitting still with the moodiness of the energy until it rises, dwells and passes away. The energy never resolves itself into something solid.

    So all the while, we stay in the middle of the energy. The path of touching in on the inherent softness of the genuine heart is to sit still and be patient with that kind of energy. We don’t have to criticize ourselves when we fail, even for a moment, because we’re just completely typical human beings; the only thing that’s unique about us is that we’re brave enough to go into these things more deeply and explore beneath our surface reaction of trying to get solid ground under our feet.

    Patience is an enormously wonderful and supportive and even magical practice. It’s a way of completely changing the fundamental human habit of trying to resolve things by going either to the right or the left, calling things right or calling things wrong. It’s the way to develop courage, the way to find out what life is really about.

    Patience is also not ignoring. In fact, patience and curiosity go together. You wonder, Who am I? Who am I at the level of my neurotic patterns? Who am I at the level beyond birth and death? If you wish to look into the nature of your own being, you need to be inquisitive. The path is a journey of investigation, beginning to look more deeply at what’s going on. The teachings give us a lot of suggestions about what we can look for, and the practices give us a lot of suggestions on how to look. Patience is one extremely helpful suggestion. Aggression, on the other hand, prevents us from looking: it puts a tight lid on our curiosity. Aggression is an energy that is determined to resolve the situation into a hard, solid, fixed pattern in which somebody wins and somebody loses.
    When you begin to investigate, you notice, for one thing, that whenever there is pain of any kind—the pain of aggression, grieving, loss, irritation, resentment, jealousy, indigestion, physical pain—if you really look into that, you can find out for yourself that behind the pain there is always something we are attached to. There is always something we’re holding on to.

    I say that with such confidence, but you have to find out for yourself whether this is really true. You can read about it: the first thing the Buddha ever taught was the truth that suffering comes from attachment. That’s in the books. But when you discover it yourself, it goes a little deeper right away.

    As soon as you discover that behind your pain is something you’re holding on to, you are at a place that you will frequently experience on the spiritual path. After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you’re there, at a point where you realize you actually have a choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften.

    That choice is presented to you again and again and again. For instance, you’re feeling pain, you look deeply into it, and you notice that there’s something very hard you’re holding on to. And then you have a choice: you can let go of it, which basically means you connect with the softness behind all that hardness. Perhaps each one of us has made the discovery that behind all the hardness of resistance, stress, aggression and jealousy, there is enormous softness that we’re trying to cover over. Aggression usually begins when someone hurts our feelings. The first response is very soft, but before we even notice what we’re doing, we harden. So we can either let go and connect with that softness or we can continue to hold on, which means that the suffering will continue.

    It requires enormous patience even to be curious enough to look, to investigate. And then when you realize you have a choice, and that there’s actually something there that you’re attached to, it requires great patience to keep going into it. Because you will want to go into denial, to shut down. You’re going to say to yourself, “I don’t want to see this.” You’ll be afraid, because even if you’re starting to get close to it, the thought of letting go is usually very frightening. You may feel that you’re going to die, or that something is going to die. And you will be right. If you let go, something will die. But it’s something that needs to die and you will benefit greatly from its death.

    On the other hand, sometimes it’s easy to let go. If you make this journey of looking to see if there’s something you’re holding on to, often it’s going to be just a little thing. Once when I was stuck with something huge, Trungpa Rinpoche gave me some advice. He said, “It’s too big; you can’t let go of it yet, so practice with the little ones. Just start noticing all the little ways you hold when it’s actually pretty easy and just get the hang of letting go.”

    That was extremely good advice. You don’t have to do the big one, because usually you can’t. It’s too threatening. It may even be too harsh to let go right then and there, on the spot. But even with small things, you may—perhaps just intellectually—begin to see that letting go can bring a sense of enormous relief, relaxation and connection with the softness and tenderness of the genuine heart. True joy comes from that.

    You can also see that holding on increases the pain, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to let go, because there’s a lot at stake. What’s at stake is your whole sense of who you are, your whole identity. You’re beginning to move into the territory of egolessness, the insubstantial nature of oneself—and of everything, for that matter. Theoretical, philosophical, distant-sounding teachings can get pretty real when you’re beginning to have an inkling of what they’re actually talking about.

    It takes a lot of patience not to beat up on yourself for being a failure at letting go. But if you apply patience to the fact that you can’t let go, somehow that helps you to do it. Patience with the fact that you can’t let go helps you to get to the point of letting go gradually—at a very sane and loving speed, at the speed that your basic wisdom allows you to move. It’s a big moment even to get to the point where you realize you have a choice. Patience is what you need at that point to just wait and soften, to sit with the restlessness and edginess and discomfort of the energy.

    I’ve come to find that patience has a lot of humor and playfulness in it. It’s a misunderstanding to think of it as endurance, as in, “Just grin and bear it.” Endurance involves some kind of repression or trying to live up to somebody else’s standards of perfection. Instead, you find you have to be pretty patient with what you see as your own imperfections. Patience is a kind of synonym for loving-kindness, because the speed of loving-kindness can be extremely slow. You are developing patience and loving-kindness for your own imperfections, for your own limitations, for not living up to your own high ideals. There’s a slogan someone once came up with that I like: “Lower your standards and relax as it is.” That’s patience.

    One of the Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha’s slogans says, “Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.” It means that if a painful situation occurs, be patient, and if a pleasant situation occurs, be patient. This is an interesting point in terms of patience and the cessation of suffering, patience and fearlessness, and patience and curiosity. We are actually jumping all the time: whether it’s pain or pleasure, we want resolution. So if we’re really happy and something is great, we could also be patient then, in terms of not just filling up the space, going a million miles an hour—impulse buying, impulse speaking, impulse acting.

    I’d like to stress that one of the things you most have to be patient with is, “Oops, I did it again!” There’s a slogan that says, “One at the beginning and one at the end.” That means that when you wake up in the morning you make your resolve, and at the end of the day you review, with a caring and gentle attitude, how you have done. Our normal resolve is to say something like, “I am going to be patient today,” or some other such set-up (as someone put it, we plan our next failure). Instead of setting yourself up, you can say, “Today, I’m going to try to the best of my ability to be patient.” And then in the evening you can look back over the whole day with loving-kindness and not beat yourself up. You’re patient with the fact that when you review your day, or even the last forty minutes, you discover, “I’ve talked and filled up all the space, just like I’ve done all my life, as long as I can remember. I was aggressive with the same style of aggression that I’ve used as long as I can remember. I got carried away with irritation exactly the same way that I have for the last…” If you’re twenty years old, it’s been twenty years that you’ve been doing it that way; if you’re seventy-five years old, it’s seventy-five years that you’ve been doing it that way. You see this and you say, “Give me a break!”

    The path of developing loving-kindness and compassion is to be patient with the fact that you’re human and that you make these mistakes. That’s more important than getting it right. It seems to work only if you’re aspiring to give yourself a break, to lighten up, as you practice developing patience and other qualities such as generosity, discipline and insight. As with the rest of the teachings, you can’t win and you can’t lose. You don’t get to just say, “Well, since I am never able to do it, I’m not going to try.” You are never able to do it and still you try. And, interestingly enough, that adds up to something; it adds up to loving-kindness for yourself and for others. You look out your eyes and you see yourself wherever you go. You see all these people who are losing it, just like you do. Then, you see all these people who catch themselves and give you the gift of fearlessness. You say, “Oh wow, what a brave one—he or she caught themselves.” You begin to appreciate even the slightest gesture of bravery on the part of others because you know it’s not easy, and that inspires you tremendously. That’s how we can really help each other.

    From <>

    [a few comments]

    Let’s close with a poem:
    Naomi Shihab Nye – Shoulders
    Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    9:00 AM
    A man crosses the street in rain,
    stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
    because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
    No car must splash him.
    No car drive too near to his shadow.
    This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
    but he’s not marked.
    Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
    His ear fills up with breathing.
    He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
    deep inside him.
    We’re not going to be able
    to live in this world
    if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
    with one another.
    The road will only be wide.
    The rain will never stop falling.

  • Friday, March 06, 2015 12:33 PM | Anonymous
  • Saturday, February 21, 2015 12:40 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Edie leads us in an exploration of patience and how that quality is emphasized by Shantideva.

  • Saturday, February 07, 2015 12:48 PM | Anonymous

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chris leads us in an exploration of Shantideva.

  • Friday, February 06, 2015 1:03 PM | Anonymous

    Revised with new recordings on Feb. 18th, 2015

    Chapter 1 - The Benefits of Bodhichitta

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 2 - Offering and Purification

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 3 - Embracing Bodhichitta

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 4 - Carefulness

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 5 - Attentiveness

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 6 - Patience

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 7 - Endeavor

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 8 - Meditative Concentration

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 9 - Wisdom

    Podcast: Play in new window

    Chapter 10 - Dedication

    Podcast: Play in new window

  • Wednesday, February 04, 2015 6:31 PM | Nomon Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    Podcast: Play in new window

    The third study group meeting facilitated by Chris Burkhart – we covered chapter 4.

  • Wednesday, February 04, 2015 1:26 PM | Anonymous

    The third study group meeting facilitated by Chris Burkhart – we covered chapter 4.

    Podcast: Play in new window

  • Thursday, January 29, 2015 6:25 PM | Nomon Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    The second study group for the Way of the Bodhisattva was facilitated by Bob Penny. We covered chapter 3.

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